Picture it: you pull into a rutted pullout at 5:30 in the morning. When you open the car door, all the warm air in the car exits with you, leaving you near-freezing in a darkened field. You hear a bison snort somewhere nearby, and your breath momentarily fogs your glasses as you exhale. You fasten on your headlamp, and your feet crunch into the packed gravel as you begin the half-mile walk to your destination. The half-light of dawn begins creeping slowly around you, allowing you to pick out sagebrush from grasses. Dark buildings loom before you. Ahead, it starts to sound like someone is playing foursquare with a rubber bouncy-ball.
This is the Teton sage grouse lek, home of several dozen displaying males of the declining species. We get to the spot early in the morning and celebrate being the only ones there to enjoy the stillness of the landscape. Near sunrise, however, an undergraduate class pulls up in several vans, and a photographer marches past us to try to get a closer shot.
The movement of the large group of people startles the bison, causing them to run across the path near the photographer. Luckily, they clear the area without further threats to the people who now surround us. As the sun crests the mountains and washes the landscape with rose and orange tones, it becomes easier to spot the birds on their lek.
After 2 hours of listening and watching them, some of them begin to leave the lek, and I can’t feel my toes anymore. We decide to head back to the car and the thermos of hot cocoa waiting for us.
We spend most of the rest of the day exploring Oxbow Bend and watching muskrats swim along the shore while river otters fight over their morning’s trout haul. Though it is intermittently breezy, we enjoy wandering the area and picnicking near the dam.
And even though the weather was cold, the mountain bluebirds agreed that spring was just on the horizon.
We were exceedingly glad we stayed the extra day in Teton to explore, especially since we had a 12-hour drive to our final destination to visit the family the next day. When asked which he liked better, the Other Half agreed that if you have to choose between Yellowstone and Grand Teton, choose both. Then you can decide.